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Only Less Will Do


Only Less Will Do

Richard Heinberg

When I’m not writing books or essays on environmental issues, or sleeping or eating, you’re likely to find me playing the violin. This has been an obsessive activity for me since I was a boy, and seems to deliver ever more satisfaction as time passes. Making and operating the little wooden box that is a violin is essentially a pre-industrial activity: nearly all its parts are from renewable sources (wood, horsetail, sheepgut), and playing it requires no electricity or gasoline. Violin playing therefore constitutes an ecologically benign hobby, right?


Hi Richard… I’ve been reading your work for about 4 years or more now… I’ve been sharing it too… .thank you… for your work. I will be sending this e mail to some friends. These friends… and family, have a specific reaction when I begin to talk about “degrowth” … they do not believe we need to do that… “technology” will fix our problem. They thoroughly belief that. If I press, with some statistic and real life info… they get quiet…then, you can see them stiffen up …and they try to give me back something about staying positive…that negativity will get us no where… I tell them, I am not being negative, but realistic. It doesn’t work.


There exists an inherent cognitive dissonance between the issues of population pressures and inequality. If every human were brought to the same (sustainable) level where would that level be? Surely much below what most of us in the USA now experience. Face it; we are hypocrites. (Yes, SR, “we”.)


Yes, SR, “we”.

Oh, boy. You’re going to get it now. She’s been on the warpath lately. :grimacing:

You raise a very important question about sustainability.



As we collide with Earth’s limits, many people’s first reflex response will be to try to find someone to blame. The result could be wars and witch-hunts.

Change this to the present tense and you have a more accurate assessment.

Still, this is a good article even though it saddens me to understand that violin-making is contributing to our problems.

Instead of making more weapons and poisons (re: Monsanto), we should be creating technologies that allow us to continue making music, especially fiddle music.



Mr. Heinberg’s essay is far stronger on population numbers combined with his own version of the “Yes, we can!” (if we all used less) mantra than on the grip of Big Oil, the MIC, and today’s globally empowered Disaster Capitalists, promoters of a most invidious form of rabid resource depletion.

By emphasizing population numbers (a favorite of several CD regulars) and the INDIVIDUAL’s choice to cut back on consumption (in keeping with uber-Libertarian sensibilities), the problem of POWER and its dictates over collective policy is washed away.

How convenient.


Interesting. In this post you sound exactly like me… mentioning most of the points I’ve OFTEN pointed out. odd, indeed.


You confuse the PR gloss with the REAL story and it would behoove you to read up on lawsuits aimed at further gutting the EPA, or about trade treaties that make Environmental Law about as sacrosanct as current Civil Liberties… you know, like that of protecting citizens’ right to PRIVACY and such.


Because I choose to do so.

you and your pals have FOR YEARS sought to paint me as a social misfit

You’re doing a great job of painting yourself.



Seems I was channeling Heinberg the other day. And I was also thinking about population. There is one thing that works and it has been identified. That is, the nearer a society or nation is to equal autonomy , freedom, and protection under the law, regarding men and women, the nearer zpg those places. Stressing equal rights rather than equal or better education is better, because equal autonomy implies equal access to education. And besides, at least half of this community would probably agree that we may be identifying the wrong portion of the population for education. Like Gloria said - “If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

Would Islam survive such a global treaty? Would Christianity? India, China, Congo, etc? We’d better find out quick. Not the complete answer, but a large and necessary ingredient. Too bad the hand nearest this torch is also an unabashed war-monger. Too bad.


Happy π Day, 3/14/15


Two fiddles here, too much fun.


And at one precise moment today it was 9:26:53, 3/14/15 9:26:53


Near the end of this excellent brief yet quite comprehensive essay, Heinberg writes:

“That’s why traditional peoples appear to us moderns as intuitive ecologists: having been hammered repeatedly by resource depletion, habitat destruction, overpopulation, and resulting famines, they eventually realized that the only way to avoid getting hammered yet again was to respect nature’s limits by restraining reproduction and protecting other forms of life. We’ve forgotten that lesson, because our civilization was built by people who successfully conquered, colonized, then moved elsewhere to do the same thing yet again; and because we are enjoying a one-time gift of fossil fuels that empower us to do things no previous society ever dreamed of.”

These two sentences encapsulate so much about the deep cultural historical roots of the present dis-integration of Earth’s systems at the hands of “civilized” people.


Excellent article. Too bad most people are in denial about its truth. And even for the minority that understands, there seems to be little that can be done to stop the madness, at least on the scale that would turn things around.


Population degrowth
The Tibetians kept the population stable by sending excess population to the monastaries. But could we do that?

Is it politically possible for the USA to implement a one child per couple policy? The only sensible way to achieve that is by forced female sterilisation after one child, since even though it would be fairer, male sterilisaton may not be effective.

Would you support such government regulation of our lives if they implemented it? Could you envisage our corporations permitting the resulting negative growth? Will our Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions permit that, or are they committed to endless growth? Will the rich ever agree to something that impinges on their right to do as they please?

Consuming less
Are you ready for pay reductions? Are you ready for a simpler life? Do you already shower in cold waters rather consume a whole heap of fossil fuels to heat water? Have you forgone your motor car yet? Will you refuse heating and air-conditioning? Did you refuse to buy a huge TV on the grounds that it will consume too much power?

If you cant live frugally, then can you imagine that the general public will agree to it. Can you imagine that the rich will support laws that force that on everyone? Will you support any laws that allow the moneyed to carry on with business as usual, but imposes austerity on the rest of us? Could you imagine the USA agreeing to anything binding in the Paris talks? If we wont submit to such a thing, why should other nations submit to it.

Politically impossible
If the answers are mostly no, and I have not met anyone for whom the answers are a mostly yes, then what is being requested, though technically possible, is politically very impossible. We are lightyears away from negative growth. We simply cant. We are mega polluters, and we will not stop until the environment imposes its own hard limits. And by that time, the planet will be drastically altered, and forced population reduction will happen in the form of massacres, and/or natural disasters.


Obviously we need more vegans and fewer meat eaters. Every vegan reduces the pressure placed on the earth and every animal eater increases it. Such a simple obvious move and everyone ignores it…


Only “suckers” will be cutting back their uses and impacts, according to people I talk with. If we’re going to hehh because we the species use too much of what’s left, I the individual wastrel would be stupid to cut back. Navy showers? No rare beef? The chance to kill the last elephant or burn the last drop of crude? What’s in it, speaking in snark, for me? You can’t build altruism into a 99th floor 10000 square foot total luxury condo or mega-yacht.
We say “we” when we write that “we” have to “do something about …” Looks to me like “we” are just exactly like those nightmare aliens in “Independence Day,” killing off any opposition or competition and eating up whole planets before zipping off to the next former Eden. And our Rulers are working hard to get a beach head Out There, with grand plans to mine the asteroids and like it is just a snap to Terra-deform Mars or maybe the moons of Jupiter or Saturn!!!

Are “we” ready to live without air conditioning in a recycled yurt and drink our recycled piss and compost our poop and accept what my parents lived with, that old aphorism,

Eat it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Do without.


Detroit is already become the place postulated in the “RoboCop” movies, privatized and terminally wasted and corrupt. Not the only bad dream out there, either.

It’s a weak dream that “we” can turn the Juggernaut of greed and self- pleasing away from the path that’s right on the way to “Soylent Green…”


The problem is a matter of scale, and a matter of time. Indigenous peoples had thousands of years to develop cultures that taught them how to live in harmony with natural cycles of resource availability, and with all the neighbors, green and brown, feathered, furred, finned, four-legged and two-legged.

We don’t have the luxury of time now, so Nature will take control of our destiny. Overshoot of any species’ population results, inevitably, in resource depletion and subsequent population decline. It’s hard and it’s fair. No one gets out alive. Yes, we’ll take many species with us, and many more will rise up to take our place.

Homo sapiens will not go extinct. We’re too resilient for that. But we will deplete the resources we have over exploited such that we will never be able to return to this level of energy use.

I think this is why we haven’t heard from our galactic neighbors: there’s just not enough resources on any planet to allow any species to develop to that level of technology.

We’re stuck with us and the Web of Life on this planet. Time to own up to our responsibilities.